Eating 8th Avenue – a two-part dim sum extravaganza

So long, 8th Avenue; you've been delicious.

So long, 8th Avenue; you’ve been delicious.

At the end of April, with Eric in tow, I headed back to the now-familiar 8th Avenue stop on the N train. It was to be my last “official” visit (reserving the right to come back for unblogged meals) before this blog moves on to another avenue TBD. To mark the occasion, we planned a dim sum blow-out.

So, it turned out, did several thousand other people. The line at Bamboo Garden (8th Ave and 64th St, our intended destination) spilled out the door and around the corner.

Our hearts sank. What to do? We ducked into the food court in an adjoining building, but there was no place to sit. Was everyone in Brooklyn on 8th Avenue that day? It was beginning to look that way.

We ended up at a bakery/diner hybrid called Jade Food Inc., drawn by the declarative simplicity of its awning (“Coffee. Milkshake. Other Beverages. Dim Sum. Bakery”) and the fact that there was an empty table inside. Over (rather watery) congee and (slightly gummy) dumplings, we plotted our next move.

“Plotted” is a bit of an exaggeration, implying as it does some strategy. It was more like a discussion of bad options, interspersed with apologies (“sorry to drag you here”) and what-if’s (“I guess we should have left earlier”).

Finally, stomachs no longer rumbling but far from sated, we headed across the street to the New Star Seafood Restaurant (8th Ave and 61st St), where the line was somewhat less daunting than at Bamboo Garden. It moved quickly, and we were soon tucking into fish balls made savory with celery and herbs and sprinkled with white pepper (like gefilte fish you actually want to eat); several varieties of dumplings (pork, shrimp, chive); stuffed bean curd skins; and pork ribs braised with black beans, chilis and pumpkin (the sleeper hit of the meal). By then we were ready to call it quits, but only after we polished off the mystery dessert we’d ordered earlier by mistake, thinking it was something savory. (It consisted of a puff pastry ridged like a shell or inchworm, tinted the color of green tea, and filled with a sweet, gloppy cream.)

Our only regret was that we’d spoiled our appetites with our pre-meal snack. The thought of all the foods we hadn’t eaten gnawed at me, and when the following weekend rolled around, I proposed a return trip. Eric, bless him, was game.

We left earlier this time, hitting the avenue before 11 am. The line at Bamboo Garden packed the restaurant’s foyer but hadn’t yet spilled into the street, so we decided to try our luck there. After a slight hesitation – I couldn’t distinguish the line to get in line from the actual line – I got a number (51) and we joined the dozens of other people milling around.

The host called out numbers fast and furious, like an auctioneer. The problem for us was that he was doing it in Chinese. (“How will we know when he calls us?” I asked Eric. “I think he wrote something by our number, it probably flags us as English speakers,” Eric assured me.) More numbers. The party with 47 took their seat. More numbers. The kind people next to us, seeing 51 on our slip, nudged us. “He just called you.”

(Pro-tip #1 for future visitors: either explicitly ask the host to call your number in English, and hope he remembers, or buddy-up with someone else on line.)

In over our heads.

In over our heads?

This time, we’d come on empty stomachs, primed for a big meal with maximum variety. We immediately sabotaged the “maximum variety” part by taking a couple of the jumbo-sized offerings . . . including a plate heaped with crusty chunks of pork and taro in a sticky brown sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. Delicious? Sure . . . but we soon despaired of seeing the bottom of the plate. Meanwhile, carts were passing every 45 seconds and the plates and bamboo steamers in front of us were multiplying and we were clearly in over our heads.

(Pro-tip #2 for future visitors: come hungry, and come with a group.)

We persevered through giant, fluffy meatballs; through a heaping plate of vegetable lo mein (another strategic miscalculation); and through vegetable dumplings. We mistook the green peeking through pliant logs of pan-fried dough for spinach or chives (they were hot green chilis – more tea, please) and the flattened pork patties made crunchy with water chestnuts for little pancakes (no matter – they were delicious). We sighed over the black mushroom caps stuffed with ethereal shrimp paste and sprinkled with some kind of roe.

We vowed to return.  And to bring more eaters with us next time.

One of the great pleasures of 8th Avenue – before or after dim sum – is strolling and window-shopping. Or more accurately, as much of the action isn’t behind glass, strolling and sidewalk-shopping. Vendors cook meat and fish balls on skewers and make soft rice noodle rolls on the griddle. Men (and a few women) with rugged, weather-beaten faces perch on low stools and repair shoes and watches while you wait. Stands offering produce and fish and dry goods and prepared foods spill over onto the sidewalk. Hardworking, multi-tasking storefronts combine wildly different businesses – real estate and produce, say, or a law office, tattoo parlor, bubble tea emporium and cell phone store.

Herewith, a photo gallery.

8th ave real estate bananas

Real estate and bananas – a natural combination.

8th ave crabs

Crabs and their roe, eager to go home with you.

8th ave groceries

One day soon (thanks to a reader’s kind offer), I’ll know what these are.

8th ave notice board

Community notice board.

8th avenue fruit stand

If you can’t find it along 8th Ave, you don’t need it.

Featured in this post:

Bamboo Garden, 6409 8th Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn 11220

New Star Seafood Restaurant, 6022 8th Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn 11220


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